London is one the greenest capital cities in the world, with many beautiful parks, gardens, heaths and city farms. So many people have asked me what London is like, or they say: 'I would love to go there'. Unfortunately the people that do come, go to the tourist sights and never see London itself. It is rare to meet someone who has been to Syon Park, the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew or the multitude of other wondrous places that exist, and that includes a lot of the population of London itself! A lot of the Royal Parks are used extensively; most have a lot of History, others have amazing shrubberies, borders and bedding always kept to very high standards. Sometimes the small areas are just to sit in and read or to look over London to see the beautiful patches of green unfold in the distance. I am going to start with a real municipal 'People's Park' that is just a Victorian Park with simple ideas. It is used for 'People's Day' which is a day for the whole community to visit and see displays, taste foods from around the world and see the park and the plants. Here is Mountsfield Park with its English oak filled with spring leaves and in the bottom right of the other picture, a weeping willow in full leaf.
Mountsfield Park takes its name from Mountsfield House, which in the mid 1840s became the home of Henry Stainton, an accomplished entomologist in the era of Charles Darwin. Nothing remains today of the house, which was demolished in 1905, but remnants of the gardens still exist. It is also unlike many of the Municipal Victorian parks or gardens in that it is mostly green. The usual mass carpet bedding of the Victorian era was not used here. There is a sort of untidy knot garden, but I will not include its picture as it is in a state of shameful disrepair, as are the rose beds; the Council has failed in its duties here. However the shrubberies are kept in some decent state and some nice specimen plants are still in existence. Here is a pink Camellia and a Magnolia stellata I took this morning.
Mountsfield Park has the advantage of height; lovely views can be seen on some aspects of it. Unfortunately it was not the best of days as the volcanic ash from the eruption in Iceland had blown over; although it did give us a purple sunset. As all aircraft were grounded and still are, it was also very peaceful. Here is the view looking north over London, and in the other picture looking west. A remarkable view of Crystal Palace can be seen from the top on a fine day.
This Park has a lot of space to wander peacefully and is used for many recreational purposes. This is done mainly on the flat of the top. As well as the usual soccer and other ball games, it is popular with people flying kites due to its height. It also has a dog walking area. At the very top there is a little tearoom where you can get homemade cakes and scones and of course cups of tea! Here is a view over the southwest and Kent can be seen on the horizon. The other photo is looking south.
At the bottom of the park going to one of the many exit gates, there appeared to be a line of Beech trees, Fagus sylvatica, put very close together for Beech. Upon a closer look they turned out to be Hornbeam or Carpinus betulus. It is lovely to see them as they adore the clay soils around this area. However they appear very close as they can grow up to 80 feet! I was wondering if the intention is to let them 'pleach' together naturally, which would be a beautiful and spectacular windbreak. On the right of this picture is a cherry plum or Prunus cerasifera 'Pissardii'. Here is one close up, It has the usual purple leaves and the spring blossom is whiteish\pink.
In one of the shrubberies a Bridal wreath or Spirea x vanhouttei, was in full flower. The picture on the right is the bell flowered, Taiwan cherry or Prunus campanulata. For some reason people get it confused with Prunus cerasifera 'Pissardii'. The leaves are a different colour and the flowers on the bell flowered cherry are a rose red colour. It is a spectacular tree and much used as a street tree and in gardens. I have put them below each other so the difference can easily be seen.
Although this park fades into insignificance to the Huge Royal Park at Greenwich which has everything from herbaceous borders, flower gardens, a deer park, nationally important historic buildings and more history than you can take in, it has something that the famous parks don't have, and that is simple peace and tranquillity away from the bustle of London. Sitting at the top of this remarkable surviving place, it is peaceful and quiet, yet the traffic of London is all around. I think we are lucky to have it, as so many places have been built on or changed, this park hasn't. It is what it is, a basic Victorian area for some relaxation or play. I have started at the bottom with Mountsfield Park, but I intend to write more articles about the 'Lost Jewels' and the famous London Parks.
If the gates to the park have not been altered and if the trees remain untouched, you can normally tell the age of an area. In this case the gates are massive cast iron structures and surely go with the original 1840 house and area! As I was walking out of the main gates there was one tree in the road that summed it up perfectly; the Victorians loved these, and the more well off planted them in their front gardens, perhaps not realizing they grew so big. They are called Monkey puzzle trees or Chile pine, Araucaria aracuana, as evidently monkeys cannot climb them! Here is one outside the Park gates and the other pictures are close ups of its braches.
I do hope you have enjoyed this lightning tour of Mountsfield Park and some of its plants and sights. I will write more from the other great Parks, and see if I can convince some people that London is not all concrete or old buildings.
This article is dedicated to Nancy.
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